The attempts on Nehru’s life made headlines in local and international media.
Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru has always been a favourite target of the Right-wing extremists. His work and legacy are one of the biggest victims of fake news, even before the term was coined. But how many of us know that Nehru faced threats to his life?
None of the plots to kill Nehru were comparable to the attempts to kill Gandhi. But they made headlines in local and international media.
An alleged plot to kill Nehru and Sardar Patel was reported in July 1948. According to the report, three alleged gang members who were on their way to Delhi with a plan to kill Nehru and Sardar Patel were arrested at a dharamsala in Lakhisarai, Bihar. A member of the same gang informed the president of Monghyr (Munger) Town Congress Committee about the plot. He said that three persons with two pistols, two revolvers, a few rifles and country-made bombs were in Delhi for the hit job. (‘Alleged Plot to Kill Leaders: Three Arrested in Bihar’, The Times of India, 31 July 1948, P1)
Sardar Patel, the home minister, was worried about Nehru’s security too. While meeting Pakistan’s premier Liaquat Ali Khan during his visit to India in April 1950, Sardar Patel expressed concern over Nehru’s security. “Jawaharlal is exerting night and day for Muslim rights. I lie awake at night worrying that what happened to Gandhiji might happen to him.” (Patel: A Life, P498, Rajmohan Gandhi has quoted these lines from Sardar’s daughter-cum-secretary Maniben’s diary entry dated 5 April 1950)
Later in the same year, Sardar disclosed in Parliament that “Pandit Nehru was intended to be the next target of that group of people who were responsible for the murder of Mahatma Gandhi”. (‘Govt. Determined to Meet All Challenges: Sardar’s Statement in Parliament’, The Times of India, 3 August 1950, P1)
Moderate leader and parliamentarian H.N. Kunzru had protested against ‘curtailment’ of civil liberties in a speech. Sardar, in his speech, accused “two classes of people – those who wanted to establish a communal Hindu state and those who wanted Communist revolution through violence and disruption of society” because of whom “hard-won freedom was being imperilled”. He said the government could not put civil liberties of millions in danger for the sake of “criminal liberties of a few”. (‘Govt. Determined to Meet All Challenges: Sardar’s Statement in Parliament’, The Times of India, 3 August 1950, P1)
According to another news report, Sardar said, “L.P. Bhopatkar, former president of All India (Hindu) Mahasabha, a Hindu militant body, had confessed to a plot to kill the premier last spring at the time of the disorders in Eastern Pakistan”. (‘Patel Charges Hindus Plotted To Kill Nehru’, The Washington Post, 3 August 1950, P1)
An alleged attempt to ‘blow up train’ in which Nehru was travelling was foiled by ‘timely discovery of bombs on track’ on 4 May 1953. According to a news report, “A police constable guarding the central railway track near Kalyan opened fire on two men crouching suspiciously in the darkness in the early hours of Monday. There were then only ten minutes for the Amritsar Express, in which Mr Jawaharlal Nehru was traveling to Bombay.” (‘Prime Minister Has Narrow Escape’, The Times of India, 5 May 1953, P1). “Two conical objects” were found from the tracks, the report said.
The New York Times covered ‘Policeman foils attempt to bomb Nehru’s train’ on its page 6, with news of Ernest Hemingway winning Pulitzer Prize for Old Man and the Sea on its front page. (NYT, 5 May 1953). It was reported later that the objects were “no more than a harmless cracker” and “the object of the miscreants was to create a sensation, rather than to cause any mischief, but the hunt for the miscreants was by no means given up”. (‘Object on Rail Line near Kalyan was Big Cracker’, The Times of India, 6 May 1953, P1)
M.O. Mathai, private secretary to Nehru, noted an incident in Nagpur wherein a rickshaw-puller “made an attempt on Nehru’s life with a knife”. The alleged attacker was “some sort of a political thinker”, was annoyed with the Congress rule and “wanted to remove the root cause of the Congress majority”. (My Days with Nehru, P135)
News reporting of the incident was subdued at first. Nehru himself, perhaps not aware of the full gravity of the situation, issued a statement saying “not to exaggerate” the incident and termed it as “an individual case of a cranky person and (that) not much significance should be attached to it” (‘Nehru’s Car Halted’, The Times of India, 13 March 1955, P1). Nehru dismissed the knife as “very small and not at all dangerous” and said, “I would have myself taken it but in the meantime the Military Secretary and the police seized him”.
In later reports, the accused, Baburao Laxman Kochale, a resident of Satara district, told the police that his “only grouse was that he was falsely implicated in a riot case in Ahmedabad in which he was discharged”. (‘Nagpur Rickshaw-Puller Remanded’, The Times of India, 14 March 1955, P7), and that he wanted to inquire about the letters he wrote to the PM in this matter. The accused requested that the Prime Minister be called as a witness, but the magistrate dismissed the plea (‘Examination of Mr Nehru: Court Rejects Plea’, The Times of India, 7 May 1955, P5)
Thirty five prosecution witnesses were examined, including “Mr Nehru, who was examined by commission in New Delhi”. After witness accounts and the doctor’s opinion that “the knife could cause a fatal injury in the circumstances of the incident”, he was sentenced to six years’ rigorous imprisonment by the jury. The district and sessions judge accepted the jury’s verdict. (‘Baburao Sentenced to Six Years’ R.I.’, The Times of India, 29 July 1955, P7).
Urvish Kothari is a senior columnist and writer in Ahmedabad.
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